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Previous: Professor Rebecca Willis, University of Lancaster: Key practical issues to consider for how the UK gets to net zero
Additional information from Expert Lead Chris Stark.
The figure he quoted for food self-sufficiency was for beef, whereas the total figure for all food types is 60% as shown by Indra Thillainathan in weekend 2.
Tim Hughes: OK, thank you very much everyone for coming back so promptly. So we are on the final straight now, so time for a quickfire Q&A to Chris and to Becky. We're going to try and get through as many of your questions as possible in the time we have available. So we'lll be asking for some nice snappy answers to them. I'm going to start off with one for Becky and let's go for - can global trade negotiations take into account emissions?'
Rebecca Willis: Yes, they can. The push of what countries have tried to do up until now is move towards a system of freer trade where there are fewer barriers to trading between countries, so they're trying to make it as easy as possible to trade between countries. And that's generally seen as a good thing to promote free trade. What it is possible to do is for one country to say, OK, we're not importing your steel anymore, for example, because it's made using too much carbon - it's made using fossil fuels. And so we're going to charge you to bring steel into our country. That is possible - it is being talked about - but it would be quite a change to the way that we've done trade. But it might be - if you end up with a situation where some countries are really forging ahead with climate change and others aren't and there's a big difference in prices between those two countries, it is something that countries will - might - want to consider.
Tim Hughes: Thank you, Becky.
Facilitator: So, Chris, we had kind of a bundle of questions about carbon capturing storage. So I'll read them out and we can answer them as a group. So how much can it store, can escape? What are the implications of our waste underground? Where is the technology for carbon capturing, including buildings and verticals, and what are the risks associated with it? What are the long term outcomes and problems with CO2 storage? What are the advantages and disadvantages with captured carbon and what do we do with it? Can it be reused?
Chris Stark: So thank you very much, so I'm very, very glad that these questions have been asked because carbon capture and storage can occasionally look like the answer and it may indeed be part of the answer, but it's not some, you know, unicorn coming along to fix things. So there are well understood processes here that allows us to take a fossil fuel, use it, capturing - usually in an energy process, so think about, for example, burning a fossil fuel, capturing the carbon and then storing it. Now in each bit of that we can plan it. So the processes themselves are understood, but the scale of it that might be necessary is not so understood. And it involves us taking as I said a fossil fuel going through some sort of process - think of natural gas, so the gas, which, if we burn it causes carbon dioxide - you can put that through a process called steam methane reformation, and you can capture the carbon that's inherent in it. And you have hydrogen at the end of that. Now, that's a process we understand. In fact, it happens quite a lot.#
The capturing of the carbon is a process we understand, and then the storage of it is the bit that we haven't really done at scale yet. Now what we can do with that carbon is we can pipe it out as a liquid into the North Sea, where we used to have oil and gas, and we can take it down into the depleted oil fields and gas fields that are there. It's particularly good to do that in a place where you have porous rock, so rock where there's lots of holes. And, in effect, it goes into what we call geological storage. So it calcifies and turns into rock, so it's a very safe storage if you can go through the process of getting out there, and in the UK, particularly in the North Sea, we have a lot of storage, really quite a substantial amount of it. So if you can construct the right processes onshore to pipe the carbon out to the storage sites, then it is potentially a very good solution overall. But there is clearly a cost to that, and there is then a question which brings us back some things that Becky talked about who pays for that and how they pay for that. So you know it's not as simply as saying that there's an easy technological process here. It's the whole social and technological process together.
Tim Hughes: Great. So, Rebecca, you spoke about action by government, by communities and business, and by individuals. So the question is, which three groups would you say is the most important in making a change?
Rebecca Willis: I would say it depends - all three. So it does depend on the issue. So you can imagine, so that change that I said that happened with boilers - towards more efficient boilers - that was government and business doing that. Individuals didn't actually need to change just when they got a new boiler they got a new type of boiler. And you know, you could do that more or less without noticing. So some things you can just switch over. Other things, you know, if we're going to reduce the amount we fly, for example, then that's something that affects anyone who who might otherwise get on a plane. What I would say is that when you look at the evidence, it's very difficult to see a route to net zero without action from government. And that's remember that that's, you know, that's what you as an assembly are considering - what government and parliament can do. And I think it's it's pretty conclusive to say that it won't just happen by businesses and individuals. You know, if we carry on with the same regulations that we have at the moment and the time same tax systems we have at the moment, it won't happen just by businesses and individuals changing their behaviour. We need government to play what you might call an enabling role. We need government to help that process along and make it easier for people and businesses to move toward net zero.
Tim Hughes: OK, Chris, couple on nuclear energy: Is this a dangerous process - radiation? Nuclear power and electric car battery waste - are we creating another problem, the side effects. Um, you know, are there other solutions?
Chris Stark: So whether you regard it as a safe process or not, it is, I think, a least partly a personal decision and a personal view. It is true to say that we have had we have quite a lot of nuclear power in this country. Other countries have more. France, for example, has a fleet of nuclear power stations bigger than ours. And they have been operating safely. Constructing new ones is expensive, partly because you need to do it in a way that allows it to be a safe process. But your judgement on whether that's something you wish to see happen because the risks of failure are large, of course, with a nuclear power station is something I'm sure you want to reflect on. What's definitely true, is that the process of generating electricity from nuclear power does create some waste on the storage of that waste is another one of those implications of addressing the problem of climate change.#
So the alternatives to fossil, or rather, the alternatives to nuclear power are that you can use renewable power, renewable sources of energy production like wind farms. They have a condition that's less helpful, I suppose, which is that they work when the wind blows and they work less well when the wind doesn't blow, so you know that's the advantage you get from nuclear power is that you get a more certain fixed amount of supply. Although even on that, there are longer discussions to have about how predictable wind power is, and we think more and more that it is quite a predictable source of electricity generation in the future, particularly if it's offshore. So in all of this discussion there are lots and lots of these trade-offs that I mentioned yesterday. Nuclear power's trade-off is often described as being one about safety and about the waste that's produced.
Tim Hughes: So, Rebecca, how can government get companies to invest in climate change solutions? What is the incentive for companies to work with government?
Rebecca Willis: OK, the. .. so can I have the questions? Thank you. How can the government get companies to invest? Well it can make it, essentially it could make it cheaper for companies to do the right thing. So it can. .. particularly remember Paul Ekins yesterday saying that new technologies that might help us tackle climate change tend to be expensive to start with and then get cheaper as you go on. We've seen that with wind power, we've seen that with solar technologies, we've even seen it with things like electric bikes and electric vehicles. So what government can do is help businesses, particularly that initial stage when it might not be profitable for them to put that investment into something that is still expensive, so government can can offer help to those companies, and government offers financial incentives to companies all the time so it can manage those incentives in a way that helps companies get over that first hurdle, if you like, until the cost of things come down. It can also help by changing the prices, like I said, by making by making it more expensive to emit fossil fuels, for example, and cheaper to use a low carbon alternative. So there are ways in which government can help business. What's the incentive for companies to work with government? I mean, you know, one incentive is that they have to obey the law. And so government can put a law in place that businesses, you know, absolutely have to follow. But it's also. .. it goes back to my first answer that government can create the right environment for innovation and for companies to do new things which will help us to tackle climate change. So it's in the interests of those businesses to be part of that process, part of getting us to net zero, and the trick for government is to make sure that it's profitable for businesses to do that, so that they want to be part of that, they want to invest in it and that their shareholders will back it.
Tim Hughes: OK, so do we have enough room for more trees and more wind turbines and grow enough food for us all? And as an island, what percentage of land would need to be planted with trees for this to be a solution?
Chris Stark: Brilliant question. Because this is one of the toughest things - we are an island, and there is only therefore a fixed amount of land to do something with it. And we have lots of needs to use land in different ways, in particular agriculture. So we produce about 80% of the food that we consume here in the UK, here in the UK, So it comes from agricultural production - 20% imported [Please note additional information at the start of this transcript]. If we want to plant more trees, which might be something that you want to do in a world where we're meeting the net zero target, we're gonna have to free up land that's presently used for agriculture for something else, and there is enough land to do that as long as there is a set of conditions and place for that to happen. One of them is that we'll need to deal with the emissions that come from agriculture and we'll probably need to look at diet. Now, that's something that you will be discussing. And I'm not gonna give you any answer to that, except to say that if diets do change, if we consume less red meat and dairy, then you have fewer livestock emissions to deal with. About.. . agriculture emissions are about 10% of the total. If you remember yesterday I showed you the pie chart, and about half of those emissions come from methane emissions, which is the digestive process off cows and sheep. If you have less of that, you can do more of some of the other things, including planting more crops and also planting more trees. To get to the kind of example solution I showed you earlier involves us going from 13% woodland cover the moment in the UK to something just under 20%. So that that's the kind of change that you see in that example. But again, I'll make the point - other examples are available.
Tim Hughes: So, we're low on time but high on questions so I'm going to ask for some really snappy answers to the next few. So Rebecca, you seem to focus on tax rather subsidies. Can you offer further examples of potential subsidies?
Rebecca Willis: Sure. OK. Two examples of subsidies. One I mentioned: you don't pay road tax on an electric vehicle at the moment, so that encourages people to buy electric vehicles. Another example is that in the past the government has paid for insulation and paid for energy efficiency measures in houses for people who couldn't otherwise, who couldn't afford to pay for it themselves. So that subsidy comes out of taxes. I would say, though, that a lot of subsidies at the moment actually are in the wrong direction for zero carbon. So, for example, you pay 20% tax - that's VAT - on energy efficient products like insulation. But you only you pay a much lower rate of VAT on the gas to heat your home. So some subsidies are actually in the wrong direction at the moment. There are also a lot of subsidies for getting fossil feels out of the ground in the first place. So some subsidies aren't necessarily helping us do what we need to do.
Tim Hughes: So I'm just gonna ask a quick follow-up question because it links to the first point you made Rebecca. Which is about the tax revenue that you can't claim from electric vehicles. So if no diesel or petrol vehicles, i.e. all electric vehicles, where is the advantage to raise money to spend on other things? Tax revenue? Go on - it's about raising tax.
Rebecca Willis: That is an excellent question. And if you have the answer, you might want to tell the Treasury because they're not sure either. There have been, so you know, the revenues from fuel tax at the moment are quite high, and, you know, we need those revenues, for example, to fund the health service. So there are alternatives. One thing that's being considered is road pricing, so that you pay per mile travelled rather than paying for fuel. And that would pay for the road network, and it could also potentially pay for other public services. But, I mean, they're genuinely - I'm looking at Chris - that's genuine an open question at the moment, right?
Chris Stark: Yes, it's a very open question, but that in particular fuel duty raises, I thinkthe figure is £27 billion a year at the moment. Now, if we all tomorrow start driving electric vehicles fuel duty would very swiftly start to dwindle. So that's money that's lost to public services unless there's a different way of raising that. So it's a really good example of how tricky is to frame up the policies and government to make this transition work.
Tim Hughes: So hydrogen - the risks and effects of hydrogen, considering it hasn't been applied, or not just such a large scale. And what are the implications in terms of causing an imbalance in the natural composition of our atmosphere?
Chris Stark: So risks of hydrogen: now everyone at this point - well not everyone - some people think of the Hindenburg at this point. And you're quite right to think about it, because hydrogen is dangerous stuff. The Hindenburg, though, is probably not the best example of the risks of hydrogen, actually, because it was the frame that you were seeing burning actually, if ever you've seen that. Hydrogen is a fuel that we understand pretty well. We don't however understands how it would work on a national scale in the same way that we do natural gas. So natural gas is what's piped into most people's homes at the moment through the gas network. So we don't know, for example, whether we could we could do the same with hydrogen in the same ways. So we do know that we need plastic pipes in the ground, and we'll need to have different things called compressors, which move it up and down the country if we're gonna have that same supply of hydrogen. We understand some of that, but again, one of the questions is linking it all together. And the question of what the implications are of so much hydrogen causing an imbalance in the national composition of the atmosphere, we're much less concerned about that. When you expose hydrogen to the atmosphere, it creates water - H2O. So it's one of the reasons why it's a thing that we can burn without too many worries about the greenhouse gas impacts. We do however have that safety impact to think about overall.
Tim Hughes: Rebecca - If we were to walk or cycle more, would infrastructure need to be planned differently to accommodate that? For example, closer hospitals and no more out of town shopping?
Rebecca Willis: Yes, that would help. If you compare between countries - if you look in the in the in the US - in America - where they've had much, much more spread out settlements, you actually need a car to get between your home and even the local shops and where you might work. So they are a lot more car dependent as a result. So you can plan your towns differently, which would mean that you can you can walk and cycle. There are - you don't have to, like, suddenly decide that Birmingham should be, you know, rebuilt. There are ways in which you can move in that direction. But definitely, I would say, thinking about where you put houses where you build new houses. That's a really important consideration.
Tim Hughes: Chris, how much methane do livestock produced in relation to humans?
Chris Stark: Some people produce a lot of hot air - two of them sitting up here. I don't know the figure for that, but I'll say that - go back to this stat that I had earlier, which is that roughly 10% of total emissions in the UK come from agriculture. Roughly half of that comes from methane from animals, so it's that livestock accounts for half of the total agricultural. ..
Tim Hughes: Rebecca, should we consider providing free public transport as an alternative to people using their own transport?
Rebecca Willis: It's an option. It's - you could think of it as a a bit like the health service - free at the point of use, so it's free when you get on the bus, but it's obviously still not free to put that bus on. So the question there would be who pays? You know that might be up to the city or it might be a national policy, but you do have to find the money from somewhere. But I know where there's been experiments that making public transport a lot cheaper, not necessarily free, that has a had a beneficial effect, both in terms of reducing emissions from transport and also in terms of accessibility. Because you know, people who can't afford a car can get around more easily and cheaply.
Tim Hughes: Transport related too - what's the environmental impact of trains currently used compared to driving?
Chris Stark: Another really good example of a tricky question. So it's it depends, and many of the answers to these questions is often it depends. But a train that travels via electricity, so that's one that has overhead lines, is generally very low in its greenhouse gas impact. And that's because the electricity that's generated to fuel it isincreasingly being de-carbonised, as I mentioned earlier. Train which run on diesel are much less good from the climate perspective. But overall, trains filled with people are generally better, regardless of what fuels them and powers them, than cars, which typically have fewer people in them. So it's it's still a really good strategy to build trains, even if they're fueled from fossil fuels. But of course the best outcome from the climate's perspective is that those trains, in the end, are electrified or possibly use something like hydrogen as power instead.
Tim Hughes: OK, we've got about five minutes left. We're going to speed up again. If government raises tax on fossil fuels, will they use it on the environment? Would it be ring fenced?
Rebecca Willis: There have been examples of that. So one not exactly climate but environmental example was there's a tax on landfill, which is rubbish that isn't recycled. And now you have to pay a tax or the waste companies pay a tax on waste that goes to a landfill, and that money has been spent on local environmental improvements in that area, so you can do it. What government will say to you is that you can't be too tight about it because there are some things that we need to fund as a country, like the health service, like pensions, like social security. And government has to find money from those somewhere. And so if you're if you're too strict about saying OK, tax this thing and it can only be spent on that thing, then that leaves government less room for manoeuvre on what they do overall. But certainly there's a strong idea that you should tax things like fossil fuels that you want to reduce the use of and spend it on promoting the alternatives.
Tim Hughes: Can we speed up the amount of renewable sources?
Chris Stark: Yes.
Tim Hughes: Fab.
Tim Hughes: Rebecca, is it feasible to make all modes of transport electric? What is the difference between the emissions of car running from diesel or petrol versus the emissions generated when election electricity is used to charge cars?
Rebecca Willis: [00:22:08-200:23:06] OK, make almost transport electric? Cars - yes, definitely feasible and done now. Goods vehicles - feasible but harder. Shipping - feasible-ish but harder still. Planes - we don't know how we'll do that, especially long haul. So it depends on which type. The electric vehicles have two advantages in terms of efficiency. The first is just that the engine itself is more efficient, you know, you get you get more energy out for energy in in an electric car now than you would a combustion engine. So there is an efficiency gain there. And also because our electricity is now produced more and more from low carbon sources. That's another benefit. So there are two ways in which electric cars are better, even when electricity isn't entirely free of carbon, isn't entirely de-carbonised.
Tim Hughes: What types of crops are used for bio-energy and how does this work?
Chris Stark: So another very controversial, difficult topic. We can grow a crop called miscanthus, which looks a bit like bamboo. And you can use that in the energy process. Or you can do, you could do something called coppicing, which is which is a technique in woodland management where you get the little shoots that come out of the bottom of the trees and there are certain trees that produce a lot of that. So poplar is one of them, I think, and you can then use that in the energy process. So we call that short rotation coppice. That's because it grows quickly. So miscanthus and short rotation coppice are two of the best routes to growing energy crops. But to make the point again, if we want to do that we need to free up what's presently agricultural land that's being used for other purposes. So that's where the controversy comes from it. It's very useful if you have carbon capturing storage because you can grow these things quickly, use them in the energy process, potentially then capture the carbon and store that. And that gets you some very quick emission reductions if you have the the ability to do that overall.
Tim Hughes: OK, so last couple of questions. Rebecca, will there be a Department of Simple Truth who will inform the public of the factual reality of choices and consequences before the political decisions are made?
Rebecca Willis: What a question! And what a department that would be. I think it's a really good question. I would say that role has been played not by government departments, but by organisations. Actually, like the Committee on Climate Change, who sit slightly outside government. And I used to be part of a government advisory body called the Sustainable Development Commission. Its job was to provide government with the evidence they needed and to a certain extent, to inform the public. So there are ways that government can do that. I think actually my suggestion would be that it's better if it's an organisation set a little bit apart from politics. But I suppose it's a challenge to you there, Chris, in terms of communicating to the public maybe about you know how we sort of lay the facts out on climate and other issues.
Tim Hughes: Great. So I think we're out of questions for Chris, but a couple more to go for Rebecca. So just in the hot seat by yourself now. The health benefits of walking and cycling outweigh the benefits of insulation etc. if money is limited? I think it's 'do they outweigh'? So if you were to spend money in one place, which would it be?
Rebecca Willis: The short answer is I don't know the answer to that because it would be specific on the person. So I know that the health effects from particularly on asthma and those sorts of conditions are considerable, actually, from from poorly insulated homes. There's very good evidence that walking and cycling brings, you know, has huge positive benefits for health and savings to the health service. But which is best in health terms will depend on the individual.
Tim Hughes: So there's another one on making public transport free, which we've already covered. So I'm going to put that to one side. It means the last question is. .. if you want to say anything more about that one. The other question is if we create regulations on household good use dependent on high carbon emissions will all this lead to international trade tensions and tarrifs?
Rebecca Willis: OK, so I answered that a little bit before when I was talking about how countries trade with each other. It's not an issue if a household good is made in this country and sold in this country because then that doesn't involve trade. But if you're thinking about goods that are shipped in, for example, you know most electronic devices are made overseas, then yes, if you if you if you impose a tariff on that, that could lead to trade tensions. I just did want to pick up. .. because something caught my eye on this - that's why - and it was about - is there a case for locally run transport? So this was about a subsidy to public transport, and is there a case for locally run transport? And I think it is a really important point to raise because I don't think we should pretend that everything should be done by national government, sort of top down. A lot of this can be done by local areas and local government and in fact, local organisations. Maybe not even companies for profit, but maybe community groups or co-operatives could provide a lot of local solutions, and government shouldn't forget about those sorts of organisations that can deliver local solutions.
Tim Hughes: Fantastic. Can we give Chris and Rebecca a huge round of applause? So we're very fortunate that they will be returning for future weekend as well. ..
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